Anyone who learns to drive is taught that a yellow light means to slow down, something might be coming from the other direction. Use caution, otherwise this could result in a horrible mishap.

A bright yellow caution light began flashing Monday on the road that leads from the DuPont facility in New Jersey that its trucks will use to deliver telomer alcohol to First Chemical in Pascagoula, which eventually leads to PFOA being released into the city’s wastewater system.

The caution signal went up when the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality took action against DuPont’s First Chemical plant in Pascagoula. A $65,000 fine was levied against the company for violations that included:

  • Keeping a drum of hazardous waste on site 11 days longer than required by law.
  • Improperly taking chlorine samples and allowing chlorine levels, on one occasion, to reach detectable levels.
  • Not recording flow rates or taking samples from a ground-water monitoring well.
  • Taking air emissions tests before they were scheduled or rescheduling them.

Plant manager James Freeman said the company reported itself to DEQ, and that the citations were for administrative reporting errors or equipment failures.

The yellow caution light should be bright enough for all to see as First Chemical prepares to process telomer alcohol, and release the controversial chemical PFOA, the byproduct of the process, into the wastewater system that services Pascagoula.

While company representatives say PFOA is not harmful and that there is no scientific evidence of the chemical causing cancer in humans, environmental groups and local residents are not convinced.

The Sierra Club has pointed to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board that states PFOA causes some kinds of cancer in laboratory rats and is likely to be a human carcinogen.

The Washington, D.C., based Environmental Working Group also cites reports by the 3M Corp. that state PFOA can cause prostate cancer, cerebrovascular disease and other health problems. A group of DuPont shareholders, DuPont Shareholders for Fair Value, is even concerned with the company’s lack of disclosure concerning the potentially harmful affects of PFOA.

Locally, a petition drive asking the Pascagoula City Council to amend its sewer ordinance to ban PFOA has gathered more than 100 signatures. On Sept. 5, when the petition was presented to the City Council, the council voted to ask DEQ for further research on PFOA.

And while DuPont and First Chemical have said that less than two pounds of PFOA per year will be released into the wastewater system, DEQ has not set a water emissions limit—something that should rightfully concern any citizen since DuPont will be allowed to act as its own watchdog.

DEQ had planned to hold a permit hearing Tuesday concerning the plant’s air emissions related to processing telomer alcohol, but that was removed from the agenda of the agency’s permitting board.

As DEQ continues to ponder the best way to grant Pascagoula’s request for additional research, the countdown continues to the startup of First Chemical’s PFOA plan. By the time DEQ finally decides how to address the issue, trucks with telomer alcohol from DuPont’s New Jersey plant could be on their way to Pascagoula.

The caution light on PFOA has burned bright enough. It is time for the City Council—perhaps the last, best chance of stopping PFOA—to take action and pass an amendment banning the release of PFOA into the wastewater system.

Pascagoula needs to red-light PFOA now.

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